Internationale Kulturwissenschaften
International Cultural Studies
Etudes culturelles internationales

Raymond Weber / Guiseppe Vititello (Council of Europe/Strasbourg)

In its fifty years of existence, the Council of Europe has been at the forefront of the defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In fulfilling this mission, implementation of progressive human rights-oriented values. It is not by chance that the European Cultural Convention, signed as early as 1954, was recognised as one of the first historical achievements for our organisation.

Culture is today called to respond to various and disparate needs: reinforcing identities, maintaining human diversity, fostering development, encouraging social cohesion. Therefore, financial resources must come together with coherent and inspired policies. Many people ask whether the Council of Europe has a cultural policy of its own. I am afraid that I have no clear-cut answer. We do make policy by launching new ideas, elaborating investigations and reports and setting up projects. Nevertheless, we do not, and could not, have a policy on our own as it would be unrealistic to cumulate into a mainstreaming concept cultural policies usually established at a national or local level. I would like to maintain that the Council of Europe has a cultural vision of the European construction, which is the result of or common heritage enriched by the fundamental experience of our cultural diversity. Even more, I would like to argue that it would be dangerous to speak of one European cultural policy, the richness of our culture being based on a plurality of concepts and values.

In partial contradiction of what I have just said, there are areas in which the Council of Europe has adopted a more affirmative attitude. One of them is new technologies. On the occasion of their 2nd Summit, the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe member States, who convened in Strasbourg on 11-12 October 1997, decided to establish a Council of Europe plan of action with a view to setting up a European cultural policy. In an unambiguous message, they resolved "to develop a European policy for the application of the new information technologies, with a view to ensuring respect for human rights and cultural diversity, fostering freedom of expression and information and maximising the educational and cultural potential of these technologies."

In a meeting in Budapest, on 6 May 1999, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (one more member State than in 1997: Georgia) were adamant to prioritise again culture as a key area of development for new technologies. Their final Declaration is a good example of Council of Europe action when meeting the need to develop structured and positive policies in the realm of culture, based on our legal and technical instruments and on forty-five years experience of cultural co-operation.

The Committee of Ministers recommended activities concerning access and participation, in order to promote the broadest possible access to the new information and communication services, so as to encourage individuals to play a more active role in public life, in an environment featured by the free flow of information, opinion and ideas.

They emphasised the importance of competence and empowerment of professionals and citizens in all sectors of society, through the development of media literacy, training at all levels of the education system and the definition of new professionals profiles and training curricula, notably for operators in the cultural sector.

They advocated the use of the new technologies as an art form, both for the promotion of individual creativity and the development of European cultural industries able to work in convergent and globalised information networks.

They encouraged the development of a wide range of communication and information networks, so as to foster the diversity of content, political pluralism, cultural diversity and sustainable cultural development, open to minorities and to the provision of cultural, educational products and services in an appropriate variety of languages.

And finally they recommended that the Secretariat of the Council of Europe implement a Plan of action, the general objective of which is to develop guidelines for a cultural policy in the information society, structured around the following 6 working axes:


from a "soft" to a more affirmative approach is easy to understand. In the multifaceted universe of international organisations, there are indeed important and influential policy contributions that often refer to societal and cultural aspects. Nevertheless, few are the organisations that develop rigorous analysis on the role and tasks of cultural policy in the emerging information society. It also appears that there is a limited insight of the strong relationship developing between economy, especially immaterial economy, and culture.

Today, spectacular changes are taking place in cultural industries and institutions which are re-modelling strategies for growth and development. Cultural industries are merging, horizontally, with kin industries and, vertically, alongside the production and distribution chain. New concepts are also burgeoning. The ALM (Archives, Libraries and Museums) theory is bringing together separate areas of cultural heritage into an aggregate of intertwined cultural institutions. As a result, the scope of cultural policy needs a new configuration.

Cultural objectives, however, remain the same. The Declaration focused on access and participation of the public, professional competence and citizens' empowerment, creativity in, and diversity of, literary and artistic expression. These objectives have mainstreamed cultural activities at least since early concepts and patterns of cultural policy matured up in political circles and cultural milieu. They are stressed in the report In from the margins, a major Council of Europe contribution to the Intergovernmental Conference on cultural and media policy held in Stockholm in March 1998. The concepts of identity, diversity, creativity and participation come all the time back on the stage and permeate the debate on cultural policy and development.

If concepts are the same, what have changed are the context, the roles and the relative positions of cultural players on the global scene. New technologies are shattering the sphere of old certitudes and paradigms. Globalisation is looming large as a threat to less diffuse languages and cultures. And convergence between the telecommunication, the audio-visual and the media industry is posing new and difficult questions to the identification of (inter)sectoral policy frameworks.

These trends have tremendous impact of the lives and the identity of the people in the world. Clashes of civilisation are reckoned to be often the result of struggle against, and an emotional response to, global trends and all-embracing symbols of dominance. Human longing for a cultural identity cannot be dismissed with scorn in the name of superior political interests, just as economic targets cannot be the exclusive drive for global governance. The example of events having taken place in South-East Europe, where the cultural factor has been seriously underestimated, is eloquent. Even the European idea is constantly re-opened to debate and re-interpreted. Without coming back to the roots of our civilisation, without giving priority to our human values, European social cohesion is under threat and a risk of periodical outbursts.

Hence, the need of lifting cultural policy to the rank of core issues in negotiations on trade and commerce now taking place within several international organisations and institutions. Culture should not be excluded by the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Seattle (November 1999) that should lead to the general GATS agreement (General Agreement on Traffics and Services). A consultation table on culture should be opened within the Global Business Dialogue and the Transatlantic Economic Partnership between the European Union and the United States. And while speaking of policy frameworks in the convergence environment, one should take into account a policy that can suit the needs of the convergent actors, but at the same time, keep alive public, social and political concerns. It is the fundamental task of our European societies to guarantee the diversity of the supply of content and information and an adequate representation of the European culture.

Current turmoil in cultural policy should therefore be reconsidered in the light of a sustainable cultural development. Policies on trade and commerce impact on cultural industries in a substantial way, preventing them to contribute effectively to the cultural thrive of European societies. The effects of such policies have already been brought to universal attention. We witness a downsizing of cultural support schemes, very often on the ground that they are elements of distortion of the market rule. We see how principles that have been catalysts of cultural development for years – such as the fixed book price, the television without frontiers conventions, and the cultural exception in the audio-visual sector – are re-questioned. And we also note a general increase in the commercialisation of public services having a cultural nature.

Against this background and other possibly negative trends for cultural policies, the Declaration of the 41 Council of Europe Ministers for Foreign Affairs illustrates the possibility, and the challenge, of considering culture a central engine for the development of new technologies. It also shows that it is possible to re-invent paradigms and to overthrow well established patterns of thought, on the assumption that it is new technologies that can impact on culture, rather than the opposite. Culture has to be put at the heart of the development of a country from the margins where it stands now.

I would like to make two final remarks. The first is to reaffirm the absolute sovereignty of creation as main objective of policies in any realm of culture. Our key principle should be to give to the multiple identities existing in Europe, in the face of the constraints induced by pressure, globalisation of cultures and values, and the dominance of models more or less imposed by mass media.

The second is the resilience of the concept of nation-state in spite of increasing trends towards the internationalisation of cultural issues (such as intellectual property, cultural exception, etc.). Planetary economies may well be looking for international guidance; no international organisation, including the Council of Europe, can nurture aspiration of global governance. Still today, however, the most effective way to resist, and interact with, the global offer is through national cultural policies.

This poses new problems to the overall action of international organisations and puts the cultural issue as core parameter for the assessment of the credibility and efficacity of their activities. In 1998, a lobby of artists, creators, movie directors mobilised successfully against the MAI Treaty, fearing that it would threaten public support schemes for national cultural industries. This action constitutes an interesting precedent for it has shown that lack of technical solutions concerning culture may be an argument to disqualify global negotiations carried out by international organisations.

The recognition of specific identities and of the multifold culture of people and countries is the all-embracing concept intended to build up a sustainable cultural development, whatever the area in which it applies, and in particular in the field of information and communication technologies. Gunter Pauli, an authority of the sustainability argument, maintains that "the first step in developing technologies that are totalitarian 'megatechnology' to a school, the use of which is restricted by cultural norms". This must be a major commitment for politicians, officials and professionals working in the international arena. With the fate of billions of people at stake, no state, let alone international organisation, can today afford the "misery" of a democratic deficit.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Internationale Kulturwissenschaften
International Cultural Studies
Etudes culturelles internationales

© INST 1999

Institut zur Erforschung und Förderung österreichischer und internationaler Literaturprozesse

 Research Institute for Austrian and International Literature and Cultural Studies

 Institut de recherche de littérature et civilisation autrichiennes et internationales